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Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking Hardcover – October 27, 1992
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Perhaps more than any other person, Marcella Hazan is responsible for bringing Italian cuisine into the homes of American cooks. We're not talking spaghetti and meatballs here--Hazan's cuisine consists of polenta, risotto, squid braised with tomatoes and white wine, sautéed swiss chard with olive oil and garlic.... Twenty years ago, when Hazan first exploded into the American consciousness with The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking, such recipes were revolutionary. With time, however, these classic dishes have become much-beloved family favorites.
Now a new generation is ready to be introduced to Marcella Hazan's way with food, and in Essentials of Italian Cooking Hazan combines her two earlier works into one update and expanded volume. In addition to the delicious collection of recipes, this book serves as a basic manual for cooks of every skill level. Recipes have been revised to reduce fat content, and a whole new chapter full of fundamental information about herbs, spices, and cheeses used in Italian kitchens--as well as details on how to select specific ingredients--has been added. New chapters, new recipes--who could ask for more than Essentials of Italian Cooking?
From Publishers Weekly
In the language of cookbooks, the word "classic" is bandied about nearly as frequently as the terms "low-fat" and "no-cholesterol." In this case, however, the estimable Hazan ( More Classic Italian Cooking ) does indeed contribute a classic to the ever-increasing literature of Italian cuisine. A revision and update of her two previous "classic" Italian cookbooks (with more than 35 completely new recipes), this one includes recipes not "in pursuit of novelty, but of taste." As Hazan puts it, the book "is meant to be used as a kitchen handbook . . . for cooks of every level . . . who want an accessible and comprehensive guide to the products, the techniques, and the dishes that constitute imperishable Italian cooking." From marinated carrot sticks to sweet-and-sour tuna steaks, Trapani style, to tortellini with fish stuffing and polenta shortcake with raisins, dried figs and pine nuts, the outstanding recipes--many of them poetically simple--are too numerous to do justice to in few words. Included is a spirited discussion of squid and the essentials of preparing fresh pasta, gnocchi (potato dumplings), authentic risotto, frittate and polenta dishes. While writing from Venice, her home for much of the year, Hazan never fails to consider the availability of ingredients in the U.S., and never assumes that all readers understand complex methods or exotic terminology. This volume is the perfect gift for a new homemaker, a seasoned chef and all lovers of good food. Illustrated. 40,000 first printing; Home Style Book Club main selection, BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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1. She tries to really minimize fat so this book might be called Italian Dieting Cuisine. This is not just my observation. She states it herself in the introduction. She doesn't like fat anymore. Fat carries a lot of taste and with removal of most of the taste a lot is lost.
2. The recipes are all very safe. I don't know if they've been adjusted and selected for an American audience. Probably one reason. But the following is probably more important: In one recipe she wants four leaves of sage, which are supposed to be simmered for an hour. This just doesn't work. There is no aromatic taste left after an hour. I just ate the dish and it tasted so dull. Plainness has been the issue with all the dishes I've cooked. Modern cooking often involves larger amounts of fresh herbs. The author seems stuck in having some silly small glass container with dried herbs.
If you like foreign food and want to cook it once in a while and really care about taste, stay away from this book. It was written in the 1970s and that was not the right time to introduce an advanced cookbook. Then it was revised in the 90s when fat was supposed to be really bad for you. The result is really not good and I am so surprised this book has so many glowing reviews.
If you want to start cooking Italian for every day consumption, are overweight and want to cut down on fat, this book might be for you. If you want genuine traditional Italian food, stay away. Sadly, I don't have a great alternative to recommend. I like Made in Italy: Food and Stories, but that is a more ambitious book. Talk more about rustic, home cooking I also like La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio: Gangivecchio's Sicilian Kitchen - focused on Sicilian food
Some reviewers have compared this book to `The Joy of Cooking'. It is much more accurate to compare it to Julia Child's seminal `Mastering the Art of French Cooking' on several counts. First, like Child's book, Hazan's book is devoted exclusively to the techniques, ingredients, and recipes of a single major national cuisine. Second, unlike `The Joy of Cooking', it does not cover absolutely every kitchen technique and issue such as hygiene, nutrition, preserving, and obscure game meats. Third, the book is published and edited by the same people, Knopf and senior editor Judith Jones. This common publishing team means the two books have a very similar look. Both are illustrated by line drawings and both benefit from Knopf's traditional skill in designing the typeface and layout of books in general for easy reading. Fourth, Ms. Hazan arrived at cooking in almost exactly the same manner as Julia Child, in that they found themselves married to men who likes to eat well, and they did not know how to cook at the time.
The 64-dollar question of course is whether this book is equal in quality to Child's book. I think there is little shame in saying that while Hazan's book stands head and shoulders over virtually every other book I have read and reviewed on Italian cuisine, it does not quite match Child et al on the latters' innovations in recipe writing, the great good humor of the writing, and the comprehensive treatment of virtually every aspect of French kitchen equipment and the `cuisine bourgeois' techniques.
This book by Dr. Hazan (she has a Ph.D. in natural sciences and biology) is the exception which proves Tony Bourdain's observation in his excellent new cookbook which claims that cooking professionals are mostly just ordinary blokes who happen to have learned a skill which you the reader do not yet have. This applies as much to most cookbook authors as it does to most chefs. The thing that separates most good cookbook authors (witness Jamie Oliver) from their readers is their passion for the importance of good ingredients, careful observation of technique, and love of achieving a desirable result. Ms. Hazan is one of the very, very few writers who approach their subject as much with the rigor of an academic as with the passion of a good cook. Ms. Hazan's academic voice is much more anthropological and phenomenological than it is scientific a la Shirley Corriher.
Ms. Hazan succeeds in distilling for us the essence of Italian savory cuisine based on the notions of battuto (an Italian trinity of lard, parsley, and onion, chopped fine), soffritto (battuto sautéed until onion is translucent and garlic is pale gold), and insaporire (the technique of preparing ingredient such as the battuto and additions to extract flavor from the primary ingredients and impart that flavor to other ingredients, as when the flavors of the soffritto are imparted to the rice in making a risotto). After introducing these essential concepts, she gives us a very detailed tour of the most important ingredients in Italian cooking. To the casual American reader who may not have been schooled by `Molto Mario', there are some surprises, such as the fact that garlic is not as important an ingredient as you may believe. Another culture shock is the difference between the French stock and the Italian broth, and Ms. Hazan's insistence that using the former is simply not Italian cooking, thank you. That is not to say that there are not at least some things in common between French and Italian cooking. The most prominent is Bechamel sauce (Salsa Balsamella), made in exactly the same manner in Rome as it is in Paris. I am reluctant to steal any thunder from Ms. Hazan, but I must pass on to you her excellent suggestion for cutting your own scallopine from the top round, so that you can be sure of getting it cut against the grain.
If there is any dissonance in Ms. Hazan's presentation, it is in her paean to the regionality of Italian cooking, where, for example, the cuisines of Bologna and Florence, just 60 miles apart, is almost as different from one another as the cuisines of Venice and Naples, which are over 400 miles apart. The geographical origin of most (but not all) recipes is given in the headnotes, yet the general discussion of Italian technique makes no notice of this great geographical variety.
Like Child's book (taking volumes I and II together) and unlike virtually every other book on Italian cooking, this volume deals with so much more than the usual 6 chapters in that it has large, separate chapters on Soups, Pasta, Risotto, Gnocchi, Crespelle (Italian for crepes), Polenta, Frittate, Fish and Shellfish, Fowl and Rabbit, Veal, Beef, Lamb, Pork, Variety Meats, Vegetables (very large chapter), Salads, Desserts, Breads, and typical Italian menus. Also like Child's books and unlike her later books, this volume does deal almost exclusively with traditional dishes. I cannot guarantee that the book is complete, as it is missing any reference to Puttanesca or saltimbocca, two certifiable classics of regional Italian cuisine. But, completeness is not the objective here. The main objective is to teach you how to cook like an Italian.
This book does not replace the dozens of good books on Italian regional cooking and it does not replace good books on Italian specialities, such as Carol Field's book on Italian baking. But, it should be the very first book you buy on Italian cooking to better understand what it is these other books are saying.
Buy The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper instead. It is about cooking from the same region and is authentic, no butter in sight. I will be donating The Essentials of Italian Cooking this year to my local fundraiser.
I made Pasta e fagioli with fresh cranberry beans according to Ms. Hazan's recipe, and, because of Ms. Hazan's widely-acknowledged eminence, I followed her recipe precisely, something I rarely do, as I am an experienced cook. Her time for cooking the beans (45 minutes), left me with undercooked beans; they should have cooked for at least an hour and fifteen minutes, if not an hour and a half. No big deal, except I added the pasta at the point Ms. Hazan recommended.
I am sure that this book will be an invaluable resource to anyone who wants to learn Italian cooking, just make sure to test and modify these recipes as necessary ahead of time; following them as is can result in flubbed meals.